PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — The state’s commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development on Friday touted Maine’s community college system as instrumental in plans to move the state forward.

Commissioner George Gervais was in The County to visit with area business leaders and to take part in the reopening of a key training facility on the Presque Isle campus of Northern Maine Community College.

More than 60 people were at NMCC for the morning event, touted as “Conversation and Coffee with the Commissioner.” The session took place inside the newly renovated welding lab in the Mailman Trades Building. The welding lab is used by students in several of the trade and technical occupation programs that incorporate welding into the curriculum. Over the past five months, it has undergone a $300,000 transformation to better address student and instructor training needs in the area.

The work included renovation of the electrical and mechanical systems to improve indoor air quality and to increase energy efficiency. Several new welders and new welding booths also have been installed in the facility.

Tim Crowley, president of NMCC, told the crowd Friday that trade courses are the foundation of the college, and its welding lab plays a huge role in supporting students’ educational growth. He said college officials want to move NMCC forward, and he thanked voters for supporting a bond that allowed the college to make the improvements.

“More than just an investment in the educational opportunities for students here at NMCC, this upgrade represents an investment in the work force of our region and state,” he said. “We are pleased that Commissioner Gervais and business and community leaders from throughout the region will join us as we officially reopen this new facility. It is this kind of initiative that best demonstrates how the higher education community is working to ensure Mainers are well-trained and qualified to meet the needs of the state’s employers and to help move Maine’s economy forward.”

Gervais said during his brief remarks that people in the state recognize the importance of the community college system and have “stepped up” to help such educational institutions play “a huge role” in helping to create jobs to revitalize the Maine economy.

He said that Maine’s community colleges “will play a huge role” in closing the gap between the number of workers who have a high school diploma and those with baccalaureate degrees, and in putting more highly skilled employees to work.

Gervais also toured other campus facilities and the Northern Maine Center for Excellence in Alternative Energy Training and Education.